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  • By Lynda Kiernan-Stone, Global AgInvesting Media

Sorghum Making a Big Entrance on the Grain Market

Due to China’s domestic corn pricing system making corn prohibitively expensive for the processing sector, and the country’s need for high volumes of GM-free grain, more sorghum will be harvested in Nebraska this year than has been harvested since the 1980s.

Farmers in Nebraska are expected to harvest 21.6 million bushels of sorghum this season – a 64% increase over last year according to a September report issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), while planted area in the state is reported at 220,000 acres – 38% above last year’s acreage.

Nationwide, the sorghum crop is expected to be 574 million bushels – up from 433 million bushels the year before.

The U.S. Department of Energy has also taken notice of the potential the crop holds, announcing $55.8 million in funding for sorghum research to identify strains with enhanced drought tolerance and nitrogen-use efficiency for ethanol production.

This is the first year that Gavilon Grain’s Benkelman facility is handling sorghum, expecting to ship between 2.5 and 5 million bushels of the grain to the Gulf of Mexico for export. Dave Spahn, grain manager for Gavilon at the site predicts that sorghum production will continue to expand in Nebraska, particularly in regions where rainfall is scarce.

“It’s going to become a bigger crop. Kansas historically has always planted a lot of sorghum but it’s going to start working its way up, especially in southwest Nebraska,” he said.

Sorghum exports have doubled in recent years, mostly due to demand from China, where it is used in the production of livestock feed, and to make a popular local alcoholic drink, according to the U.S. Sorghum Checkoff Program. Last year, China accounted for 88% of all U.S. exported sorghum.

Even though sorghum seems to be a rising star, it is unlikely that it will become a viable alternative crop to corn in Nebraska.

“The new market entry must always demonstrate better efficiency and economics to force a change in current practices. Therein lies the challenge,” said Nebraska Ethanol Board Administrator, Todd Sneller. “Despite hearing about these marvels for nearly 40 years I have yet to see this demonstrated in a commercial environment."

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